Friday, July 5, 2013

Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Advocacy Training

Become an advocate for maternal health- Apply for the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Advocacy Training!

The Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project is excited to announce that it will sponsor its fourth Ambassador Advocacy Training this fall to engage and empower people of faith from across the United States to respond to the global tragedy of maternal mortality and the unmet need for family planning. The training will be held in Washington, D.C., from October 27th-30th.

Participants will learn about global maternal health, train in effective grassroots advocacy, design action plans for at-home advocacy, and meet with their elected officials to advocate for increased funding for international family planning programs.

We’re looking for passionate people of faith who reside in the continental United States to apply. Those interested can apply for the training here. The Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project will cover travel, lodging, and food costs for all participants.

To learn more about our training we invite potential applicants to attend an informational webinar on July 9th.

Applications are due by July 15th.  For more information visit the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet website.

Friday, May 3, 2013

You’re right President Obama, it’s time to close Guantanamo

by T.C. Morrow

Last Friday I stood in an orange jumpsuit and black hood, carrying a sign with the name of a detainee who had died at Guantanamo. It was only for an hour, but a profound hour to think about the men that are being held in our name.
Photo by Ted Majdosz

This Friday I again joined a Close Guantanamo vigil over the lunch hour in Washington, DC. Between the two Fridays, during a press conference on Tuesday, April 30, President Obama restated his belief in the need to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. 

I appreciate President Obama responding to a question about the hunger strike at Guantanamo that started in February and now reportedly includes 100 of the 166 detainees. It is a hunger strike born of the desperation of men being held in indefinite detention, 86 of whom have been cleared for transfer but Congress has put up roadblocks for the transfers. While I appreciate President Obama’s recommitment, which he had stated during last year’s campaign as well, I am waiting to see words turn into action. The President has blamed Congress for the roadblocks, but he signed the bills into law and has not used the powers the Administration has to certify individuals for transfer.

I have no doubt that a number of the men held at Guantanamo are guilty of war crimes and should be tried, but how long are we going to embarrass ourselves and not transfer men who have been cleared for transfer? Every day that the detention center stays open is another day of reminder of the sins of torture that have taken place there.

So as tourists walked by snapping pictures of the White House, I was present in vigils to let President Obama know that we support his desire to see Guantanamo closed and encourage action to back up his words. I was with fellow colleagues with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), members of Witness Against Torture, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and more. On April 26, we were joined by Col. Morris Davis (ret.), former Chief Prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions. Col. Davis launched a petition this week that now has over 125,000 signatures.
Later on Tuesday after the President’s remarks in the press conference, 38 religious leaders released a public letter sent to the President and all members of Congress, describing the desperate situation at Guantanamo and calling on President Obama and Congress to back the President’s words with action by expeditiously moving to close the Guantanamo detention center. My colleague Laura Markle Downton read the letter, coordinated by NRCAT, at the vigil this Friday. I shared the following prayer. It is not the lament that has been just on the edge of my mind and unable to get into full sentences, but I offer it for your prayer and reflection:

God of the open spaces like this plaza and God of the closed cells like at Guantanamo, we give thanks that you have created each person in your image, each person with dignity and worth.

We pray that you may help all people remember that each and every person is your beloved child.

When we fall short and do ill to each other, lift us up and let your justice reign.

On this day, here in front of the White House, a symbol of hope and freedom, we gather to call for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a symbol of torture and shame.

We gather in solidarity with those desperate enough to go on hunger strike to make their voices heard. May they know that many voices have lifted up for an end to indefinite detention and closure of Guantanmo.
We pray for President Obama, for strength of conviction and action to close Guantanamo. We pray for others in our government to undue this stain on our country. We pray for the guards and medical staff at Guantanamo, we pray for the detainees, especially those who have been cleared for transfer and languish in the unknown. We pray for the American people and we pray for ourselves, that we may not give in to fear – that through your help O God, we can see a closure of the Guantanamo detention facility.



T.C. Morrow is Director of Finance & Operations for the National ReligiousCampaign Against Torture and a member of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Promised Land: The Mountaintop for Immigration Reform

by Mistead Sai

Guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
Guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
Guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don't want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)
-African-American Spiritual

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by a shot from a sniper’s bullet while he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. This past April, we commemorated the 45th year since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. who will always be in history books for years to come for the hand he had in the civil rights movement. It’s hard to even think of the civil rights movement without Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK had traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the striking of African-American sanitation workers. The workers had participated in a walkout earlier in February to protest the unfair wages and working conditions they experienced at their workplace. He had spoken the day prior to his death to a gathering at the Masonic Temple known as the speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

Excerpt: “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats... or talk about the threats that were out……….. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land.”

Listen to this powerfully captivating speech of “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” here!

Despite receiving bomb threats against his plane before got to Memphis, he understood the work of God in his life and his life’s mission to bring the Promised Land to all people. He understood the need to support workers, the need for righteousness in the face of injustice. He understood the need for economic justice for the plight of African-American workers.

Has things changed in these times? No!

I can draw a lot of parallels between the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech concerning the Memphis Sanitation Strike and the undocumented immigrant in this highly-political climate with the event that happened a couple weeks ago, and the struggle of the undocumented immigrants.

Today, the undocumented immigrant has experienced abuse from their unscrupulous employer who steals their wages (wage theft), exposes them to hazardous working conditions, and intimidates them with threats of calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they complain, or try to organize other themselves.

What kind of life is it to work in a low-wage job providing essential labor such as farming and having to live in the shadows in constant fear?

Moreover, similarly as Martin Luther King, Jr. received a bomb threat, we witnessed the tragic Boston bombings and some lawmakers have cited the Boston bombing as example if Congress carries immigration reform too far. They want to use the incident to heighten enforcement and deny citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country. It has revitalized a certain xenophobia and anxiety in America.

MLK did not let the bomb threat affect his vision, but he stood the course, and we should not let the bomb threat prevent us from seeing the vision either.

We should not allow politicians to use the Boston bombing as a ploy to inhibit immigration reform from happening. We are too close now to let immigration reform fall right under us…..I have seen the Promised Land

Let’s stay the course my brothers and sisters and not derail from our work on immigration reform. I mourn for the folks that were injured or killed in the Boston bombing, but I stand with a much heavier heart seeking the Beloved Community that MLK speaks of in light of this travesty.

We must commit ourselves to the Beloved Community of MLK. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood and saw the Promised Land for Civil Rights, and now we see the Promised Land for Immigration Reform where all of our immigrant brothers and sisters are respected and their dignity is acknowledged.

Let’s stay the course……

Today on May Day (International Workers’ Day), I will walk through the city streets where the Haymarket massacre occurred in Chicago with my co-workers at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) to protest for immigration reform for immigrant workers seeking full citizenship and be ensured of their workers’ rights.

I have seen the Promised Land. My eyes have seen the Promised Land and I know that we can get there together!


Mistead Sai is a US-2 missionary for the United Methodist through the General Board of Global ministries. Mistead Said serves at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) as their Worker Center Network Assistant providing support to worker center affiliates nationwide. Mistead received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Maryland. He enjoys intellectual conservations, likes documentaries, and has taken a liking to investigate issues surrounding environmental racism, biopolitics, and identity politics in the past recent months.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Women: At the Center of a Sustainable World

by Beka Olsen

Crossposted on the Huffington Post

Last February, I had a daughter. It changed the way I view the world entirely, in ways I’d never expected. Suddenly, I spend a lot more time thinking about the world in which my daughter will grow up, and what I’d like that world to look like. This Earth Day, I’m also thinking about how women – like the one my daughter will grow up to be – can change the face of the world.

My viewpoint has always been shaped by my relationship with the church and my family. My father was a Methodist minister. My mother is a Methodist minister, as is my stepfather. I believe that we all have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than us.

My daughter will grow up lucky, compared to millions of children around the world. She’ll have good food, safe places to live and learn. She won’t have to walk for miles to find clean water – she’ll turn on the faucet anytime she gets thirsty. She won’t have to spend hours gathering enough firewood to cook her dinner.

But many women, here in the U.S. and around the globe, aren’t as lucky. I was thinking about those women, and their daughters, during a long drive across Texas last year with my husband, my mother and my newborn daughter. We were playing one of those “what if?” games that people play to while away the hours. What would you do if you could do any work you wanted? I’d help women, I said.  I’d help make sure their daughters could have the same opportunities as mine.

My mother then encouraged me to get involved with the “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” project at the United Methodist Church. Through the project, I learned that one of the best ways to help women and girls thrive is to give them the education and options they need to plan their families. More than 220 million women around the world want to delay or avoid a pregnancy, but aren’t using modern family planning. Sometimes it’s a question of access, sometimes a question of cultural barriers. But always, it’s a question of choice – a choice I had, a choice I want my daughter to have, regarding when and whether to bear a child. I want all women to have that choice.

What does this have to do with Earth Day? I believe that healthy, thriving women both create and depend on healthy, thriving communities. Without clean air, healthy forests, abundant fish and  wildlife, we cannot have healthy cities and towns. But a healthy environment depends on people, families and communities that are empowered to make decisions that work for them about how fast to grow.

Last June, then- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a powerful speech at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, noted that “to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children.”

My daughter will grow up healthy and empowered to plan her family. But the world she will live in depends on the decisions we make now about how to empower the rest of the world’s women. By giving women choices and education regarding family planning, women will have access to the tools they need to make decisions about their family’s future. We can help build a world in which every woman and girl – and everyone man and boy – can grow up as blessed as you and me.


Beka Olson is a “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” Ambassador for the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. She lives in Manhattan.

God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale

by Sara Swenson

The smell of ice melting into damp earth. The sounds of returning geese harmonizing with winter silence over sundown. Spring in rural Minnesota means new grass, wobbling calves, thawing lakes, sunlight dissolving clouds, and the first tassels of corn brushing up from the fields.

Growing up around the farms and forests of western Minnesota, the concept of resurrection came easily. I remember my Sunday school teacher laboring through the complexity of the topic during Holy Week, unsure how to present such abstract subject matter to a classroom of kindergarteners wielding crayon-shaded cutouts of butterflies and crosses. She must have stayed up half the night crafting her lesson plans, but the theological nuances which evaded her were a natural given to her pupils After all, we had watched the perennials in our gardens and flower boxes bloom fresh year after year – leaves bursting from bark as if by magic, apples rolling red from pink blossoms, golden wheat rising from dry seed without self-conscious awareness that it was performing any sort of miracle. Butterflies casually unfolded from cocoons; kittens tumbled mewing from barns with matching stripes as their mothers; winter melt sparkled into once-dry ponds, and sunflowers turned their faces to God.

So why wouldn’t Jesus rise from the dead? Resurrection was at work every day in our farms and yards; that which the world’s greatest preachers and theologians had grappled over for centuries came to us farm kids as naturally as talking and moving. Life demonstrated Easter better than any lesson plan.

The farms and lakes of my childhood were God’s classroom. The wonders of discovering new bugs, neat rocks, and weird plants taught me awe and reverence for an incomprehensible divine so big that God encompassed all of nature’s wild diversity. My daily adventures in nature taught me humility by reminding me how much I still had to learn about the world. Every time I encountered something new and exciting, I realized how limited my own imagination was next to the enormous creativity of God in the world. If one tiny plant could hold so much mystery, imagine how much more mystery my friends and neighbors contained! I learned to be self-critical of my own assumptions about others, to practice grace and forgiveness, and to respect the surprises God hid within all life, just by walking through fields.

As I grew up and began to learn more about science and biology, this depth of mystery deepened each in God, my neighbor, the world, and in the tiny wonders of snails, daffodils, molecules, and atoms. The possibilities of this unconceivable complexity thrilled and challenged me. No longer could I comfortably accept givens or stereotypes – science itself was an expression of transforming thought and gradual evolution. Compassion became a necessity in the light of this required humility – all that I did not know became the ethical grounding for my moral and theological convictions. I could not help but default to love and forgiveness in light my own very human flaws and limited understanding. I had to practice grace toward my friends and neighbors for their own simple human limits. The incomprehensible complexity of nature was a demonstration of God’s vast mystery and an underlying requirement for me to both accept and practice grace.

As I read now about the growing trends of global fundamentalism and genetic modification, I can’t help but wonder if they are related. After all, isn’t it the same impulse within us that encourages humans to deny both the incompressible complexities of God and nature? Fundamentalism limits God to a narrow interpretation of texts and dogma. Genetic modification limits nature to machine-like decoding and human convenience. Either way, we are running away from faith and diversity by claiming to understand more than we can. Either way, we are denying the grace of divine mystery.

Globalization and the dangers of a growing world population seem to present too many unsolvable puzzles and fears for us. Instead of responding with faith and courage – embracing the possibilities of diversity and change – we respond by squeezing one another into boxes of judgment according to race, nationality, sexuality, political perspective, and so on. We squeeze nature, too, into a box of what we think we can control. In oversimplifying the mysteries of the world and one another, we mock, condemn, and cut down what we cannot understand, the same way we mocked, condemned, and crucified what we could not understand in the divine mystery of Christ. I sense, in the midst of our modern travesty, Christ is once again crying out for all, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

When companies like Monsanto claim to “copyright” seeds and redesign swaths of genetic coding in the world’s staple crops, we are faced with a problem that is not only environmental and political, but deeply theological and ethical. This denial of nature’s complexity and undermining of shared global resources reflects an unsettling transgression of the divine. What we fail to recognize in the infinite mystery of nature, we fail to recognize in the infinite mysteries of God and our neighbor. What we are willing to do to a seed, we are willing to do to one another. What we have done in limiting and dissecting a seed is what we have already done to Christ in the limited-perspective and condemnation of the crucifixion.

In limiting the capacities of plants to self-germinate or perennially bloom through genetic modification, we limit our own memory of daily resurrection. When we reduce the inconceivable intricacies of ecological systems to a few key crops and chemicals that we claim to control, we
forget our own inter-dependency on a divine grace and creative force which we can neither
reduce nor control.

Reclaiming natural diversity by refusing to accept genetic modification as our only answer to issues of global warming and global hunger is an act of faith. The dynamic interactions of bees with flowers, dung beetles with cattle, birds with berries, and beans with corn demonstrate for us a world of cooperation and diversity in community toward which we must continue to aspire. Approaching nature’s complexity with humility demonstrates hope for a world of peace, a world where we will also approach one another’s untold differences with respect and humility. Reasserting the mystery of science by protecting genetic diversity is also an act of reaffirming the mystery of God and the value of life.

Protecting ecological diversity becomes an act of faith in resurrection. Resurrection occurs a thousand times each day in the death, rebirth, and sharing of seeds. In protecting nature’s genetic diversity, we also protect our hope for transformation through our own spiritual rebirths. I pray that God’s classrooms of the field and lake will remain for future generations. I pray our global children will continue to grow up, immersed in natural wonder for the daily miracles of resurrection and transformation which are, by nature and creation, available to all. Taking a stand now on issues of genetic modification is not just an act of political or environmental care – it is an act of faith. It is an act of Easter. It is an act of mystery, grace, and resurrection. It is an act of love.

Sara Ann Swenson earned her Master of Arts in Comparative Religions at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. She is an avid gardener, writer, and cook, who serves the United Methodist Church in a variety of lovingly disruptive capacities. This fall, she will begin doctoral work in comparative monasticism at Syracuse University in New York.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter: Believing Idle Tales

by Amanda Rohrs-Dodge

Luke 23:55 - 24:11

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how the body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”[1]. It is probably safe to say that most of us have been taught, from a very early age, not to tell idle tales. The fable of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ comes to mind. Do you remember it? A young boy is sent into the field to tend a flock of sheep, which is pretty boring work. Thinking he would play a practical joke on the townspeople, he cries out that there is a wolf attacking the sheep, causing everyone to drop what they are doing to come to his aid. When they arrive, there is no wolf, only the boy who is amused by his ability to trick his elders. They tell him not to do it again, but of course he does, with the same outcome. But then one day a wolf does come. And when the boy calls out for help, no one comes to his aid because they think he is once again trying to trick them. In some tellings of the story the sheep die; in others, it is the boy himself who gets eaten by the wolf. The moral of the story? Don’t tell idle tales, because when the day comes that you’re telling the truth, people might not believe you.

These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. The women who came to the tomb on that Easter morning stumbled upon a traumatic surprise: the body of Jesus was gone. Not only that, but suddenly two strange men appear before them, bringing good news that initially begins almost as an interrogation. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember how he told you...?” The women do remember, and they run to tell the others, to tell their story of what has occurred that morning at the tomb, but they are not believed. The women try to break the silence of fear and mourning, but their words fall on deaf ears. They are not believed. Sometimes it is easier to believe the truth is not truth at all, but only an idle tale.

On Wednesday, March 20 students at Drew Theological School gathered together to break a different kind of silence. At 11:20am, during the weekly chapel service, members of Dr. Traci West’s class, “Ethically Responding to Violence Against Women” broke the silence surrounding violence against not only women, but also men and transgendered individuals. Students in the class offered various reflections surrounding the issue of violence. One student shared the concerns they had of offering pastoral care to female victims of male violence when they themselves were male. Another student shared her story of being raped by her boyfriend in undergraduate school, and the ways in which her religious upbringing had kept her from seeking help. A third student shared a story that reflected the complicated experiences of immigrant women who are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, whose stories are often not believed. After each reflection a piece of pottery was broken, symbolizing not only the violence that had been done but also the power of breaking the silence surrounding these multiple forms of violence (click to see parts 1, 2, and 3 of the service)

That very same evening students, faculty, and even the dean of the theological school performed Eve Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, a collection of monologues that told stories of violence against women and girls. Stories of young adolescent girls who were nearly sexually assaulted at parties. Stories of women pulling the trigger during times of war. Stories of girls who were hidden in vats of banana beer to protect them from soldiers looking to rape and kill them during civil war. Story after story after story... stories that, when seen in the paper or on the internet may be glossed over, maybe not as an idle tale, but as something that happens somewhere else. Something that happens to other people. Something that is far removed from many of our experiences. But that night, in that space, as these stories were embodied by the men and women of the Drew Theological School community, the truth came out. These stories were not idle tales. They were believed.

Sometimes it is easier to believe that the truth is nothing but an idle tale, to remain in denial. Like the disciples on that first Easter it can be easier to not believe the women’s stories, because if we were to believe them... then we would have to do something.

In verse 12 the story continues: But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. The note in my study bible says that “other ancient authorities lack verse 12”[2] which causes me to ask, why was this part of the story added? Is it perhaps because a later community was uncomfortable with the disciple’s lack of belief? Did they need to have someone in the story believe that the women could have been telling the truth? Like Peter in the story, something about these women’s stories seems to be more than an idle tale. And like Peter, we find ourselves in a place of needing to know the truth for ourselves, leading us to the tomb, to the source of the story. What we find is that the story is true: the tomb is empty, the body is gone, the silence has been broken.

Peter goes home, amazed. But we cannot simply go home, not after hearing the truth. There are other silences that need to be broken, other bodies to stand in solidarity with, other stories that need to be told again and again until the truth is revealed. We must break the silence surrounding violence against women, be it by praying and preaching, or listening and speaking, or even dancing in the street as a part of One Billion Rising, the "biggest mass global action to end violence against women and girls in the history of humankind."
Perhaps most importantly, we must have ears and hearts open to hearing the stories. We must hear the truth in what the women say; we must believe. And then we must run, to see and share the truth for ourselves, breaking the silence, re-envisioning the world.

[1] I am indebted to fellow classmate Kelly Lee (Drew Theological School, ‘13) who made the connection between the women’s resurrection story not being believed and the way in which women’s stories of abuse are often not believed.
[2] The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, NRSV


Amanda Rohrs-Dodge is the student assistant pastor at The United Methodist Church in Madison, located next to Drew University. She graduated with her M.Div. from Drew Theological in Dec. 2012, and is currently an MA student at Drew, focusing on the New Testament and women's and gender studies. She lives with her husband who is a United Methodist pastor and their three cats, Vinny, Yoko, and Tebogo.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: The Journey to the Cross and Transformation

by Kara Crawford

Cross-posted on the Ministry with the Poor Blog.

May this immolated body and this blood
sacrificed for all nourish us so that we
may offer our body and our blood
as Christ did, and thus bring
justice and peace
to our people. Let us join together,
then, in the faith and hope of this intimate moment of prayer…
(Last words of Oscar Romero, March 24, 1980
Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings,
by Dennis, Golden, and Wright, pg. 98)

These were the last words spoken by Archbishop Óscar Romero on March 24, 1980. He died while celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at a small hospital chapel in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. He was gunned down as he held up the chalice to consecrate the communion wine.

Over the thirty-plus years that have followed, Romero has become a legendary figure: a champion of the poor, a voice for peace, justice, and nonviolence, a martyr for his faith, and a transformative presence in the Catholic Church and in El Salvador In fact, Salvadorans are pressing Pope Francis to beatify Romero, the first step toward sainthood in the Catholic Church.

Romero was born on August 15, 1917 in Ciudad Barrios in the Salvadoran department of San Miguel. He entered the minor seminary at the age of thirteen, and then began his journey towards ordained ministry. Over time he worked his way through the Catholic hierarchy in El Salvador serving in a variety of roles. He was regarded as conventional and reserved, within the customary bounds of church tradition and practice, at a time when the Catholic Church in El Salvador was divided over a brutal civil war that pitted rich and powerful established interests, including the government and the Catholic hierarchy, against poor people, rebels and their religious allies fighting for economic justice.

On February 23, 1977, Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. His appointment was not celebrated by those clergy who had aligned themselves with the revolutionary forces fighting with of the poor. One of those radicalized clergy, a Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, was a close personal friend of Romero’s.

Romero could neither understand nor condone how his clergy friend could have aligned himself with the guerrilla groups in his pursuit of justice for the poor. But then, on March 12, 1977, just a few weeks after Romero was appointed Bishop, Fr. Rutilio was assassinated. To Romero’s dismay, there was no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Rutilio’s death had a profound impact on Romero’s vocation, faith and worldview. It was a turning point in Romero’s journey of faith and ministry. Sometime later, he said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’”

Throughout the next three years of his life and ministry, Romero became increasingly engaged in the struggles of the poor, living and working among them and allowing for their stories and struggles to become one with his own. He lived a simple life, in a small house near the campus of the hospital in whose chapel he was assassinated. That he celebrated his final Mass in a hospital chapel rather than a cathedral speaks volumes of his living in communion with the most vulnerable in Salvadoran society.

In 2010, I was privileged to travel to El Salvador with a group from DePaul University. While on the trip, we visited a number of sites that were significant during El Salvador’s civil war, including a number of sites related to Romero’s life and martyrdom. While I was in the chapel where he was assassinated, I was struck by the powerful imagery and symbolism of his final act – consecrating the communion wine. The blood of Christ, shed for all suddenly became profoundly incarnate before my very eyes.

Good Friday is upon us, and as my Lenten journey comes to a close and I turn toward Easter Sunday, I cannot help but reflect on Romero’s walk with the poor, a personal conversion that led to him to the cross.

What moves me most about Romero is that his witness to the injustices, oppression, marginalization, and violence inflicted upon the poor of El Salvador opened his eyes and heart. In this process of conversion, he allowed himself to be transformed by the Holy Spirit working in and through the poor. In his walk with the poor he found the courage to stand with them—to the point of death-- and, like Jesus, boldly speak and embody the biblical message of liberation of the poor and oppressed. (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18, Luke 6:20)

Two weeks before he died Romero said: “I have been frequently threatened with death. I should say to you that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection: if I die, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”

As we journey with Christ to the cross, are we willing to stand with and be transformed by the poor? As Romero demonstrated in his life and ministry, it is in walking with the poor that we become emboldened and empowered to take up the cross and follow Jesus in working to bring about peace and justice, nourished by Christ’s sacrifice.

For more information about Archbishop Oscar Romero see the 1989 biographical film Romero, the book Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings (Dennis, Golden, and Wright, 2000), and many other books and resources.


Kara Crawford is a United Methodist Mission Intern. She is currently serving part-time at New Day UMC, a new church start in the Bronx, NY, and part-time at the General Boardof Global Ministries in support of the Ministry with the Poor Area of Focus of The United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of DePaulUniversity in Chicago, IL, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Prior to her current assignments, she served in Bogotá, Colombia with the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación doing workshops in human rights and communications with groups of women and children. A member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and a lifelong United Methodist, Kara is passionate about engaging The UMC in conversations around what it truly means for us as a church to live out Micah 6:8: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: We gotta wash each other's feet

Today, we remember events that it seems impossible for us to remember, events that happened centuries ago. We reenact. We inhabit stories, live into texts. We repeat the words: "Do this and remember me." "If I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."

We are supposed to wash each other's feet.

Here is what I think that means, for young people seeking God and seeking justice in the world today.

It means taking care of each other at our most vulnerable places, the places that we want to hide away.

It means that, while we're rallying at the Supreme Court or celebrating divestment victories (and asking "what's next?") or organizing for worker justice or calling our members of Congress, we don't forget to take care of each other. We don't forget that we are all soft and hurting, that we each come with our own stories, our own wrinkles, our own mess.

It means that we never forget that we work for justice because people, real people, are being hurt. That those people have names. That they have stories. That this is not ultimately about particular policies or parties or pieces of legislation--those things are all of vital importance, don't get me wrong--but about people. People we need to listen to. And that often is going to mean, inasmuch as this is at all possible, divesting ourselves of power. Or at the very least being critical of the sort of power that keeps us from caring for each other as equals.

We have a lot to do. A lot of work to take on. A lot of tasks to accomplish. But we have to remember that we will not always be tireless in our work for justice. That we, and the people we work with, will stumble. Will struggle. Will burn out.

We have to be willing to bend down into those places, and to love, to love, to love.

Friends, one thing we have to remember. We gotta wash each other's feet.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday: Triumphal Entry

See Luke 19:28-40.

The image of the statue, ropes twined around it, mid-topple, framed by blue skies and crowds of people--- this image is etched in my mind, as are vague memories of tanks rolling through town, so many American flags, and the unbridled triumph in the voices of politicians. This triumphal entry, on April 9, 2003, was fed to us as the signal of the USAmerican victory over an evil-doer. The staged Marine-led toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad was narrated to us as a triumph of democracy and goodness and hope. And yet, here I am ten years later, listening to reports of cancer and murder and suicide and I can't seem to find that democracy and goodness and hope we were promised as the statue fell.

Our pro-war propaganda machine tells us that this is how we bring about freedom: tanks and toppling. But there is another Triumphal Entry we celebrate this week that tells us something different. It tells us that God's victory arrives not on a tank but on a lowly colt. It tells us that people shout for joy not because of deeds of military might, but the deeds of power they saw in healing miracles. It recognizes that the one who comes in the name of God comes not in a military uniform but as a political agitator for peace. Jesus came into Jerusalem on the back of a colt promising a different kind of victory, a different kind of freedom than that proclaimed in the ten years since the USA invaded Iraq.

People recognized that difference and it scared them. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd commanded Jesus to stop. On Friday, we will remember the consequences of Jesus' triumphal entry, a crucifixion that resembles more the day to day suffering of Iraqi civilians and abandoned USAmerican veterans suffering from PTSD. And yet, too many of our churches will forget the connections this Holy Week, forget the roots that extend into our own times, tell ourselves that the story we remember is a spiritual story that demands nothing of us but "belief." So I urge you this Palm Sunday to pray. Lift up the cause for peace in Iraq in your congregation's sharing of prayer concerns. Educate yourself about the ongoing struggle in Iraq--- just because the USA has declared the Iraq War over does not mean that the mess and terror of war has been alleviated. And, of course, our government wages war and supports war in many other countries too.

It is our responsibility as Christians to remember Jesus' entry in Jerusalem and the lessons it teaches us of freedom and peace this Holy Week.


Shannon Sullivan serves the Deer Creek Charge, a two-point charge in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is a graduate of Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, and blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

International Women's Day: A Call for Intersectionality

by Katey Zeh

Crossposted at Methodist Federation for Social Action and the General Board of Church and Society's Faith in Action.

Proverbs 31:31: “Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

The writer of Proverbs 31 writes of an ëschet-chayil, which depending on the particular biblical translation, can be read as a virtuous, noble, excellent, or capable woman. But as I reflect on the ongoing global struggle for women’s dignity, I prefer another translation of ëschet-chayil—a woman of valor. The term valor is often associated with conflict and even war, and describes a person who approaches danger with bravery and courage.

What are the characteristics of a woman of valor, according to Proverbs 31? She is trustworthy, hardworking, charitable, and strong—and she is to be given an equitable share of the fruits of her labor.

I know this woman of valor. I have met her many times. She is the one running a rural health clinic in Kenya, serving a community that otherwise would have no access to health care. She is the one in Nicaragua educating her peers about domestic violence and family planning. She is the one making safe birthing kits for those she will never meet.

As the global community prepares to honor International Women’s Day on March 8, I have been wondering, what ought to be the role of the church in commemorating these women of valor among us? The author of Proverbs 31 gives us some direction. First, we are to give thanks for the courage, bravery, and diligence of women in our own communities and around the world. Second, we are to ensure that all women receive that which they have earned—honor, dignity, and access to resources.

Many people are familiar with the statistic that while women do a majority of the world’s work, they own less than 1% of the world’s land. But that is only one aspect of the gender gap that contributes to women’s undervalued position in their homes, communities, and countries. We must continue to move away from a piecemeal approach to gender equality and begin to look intersectionally at the many injustices women face, impeding their sacred worth as children of God.

We must wake up! Did you know that a young woman in Chad is more likely to die giving birth than she is to receive a secondary education? What does this say about how we value the life of the girl child? The roots of our world’s deepest suffering—violence, HIV/AIDS, poverty, malnutrition—disproportionately impact our sisters in Christ. We are called to be partners with God in creating a more just world for all God’s children, and that means addressing the sins of both our personal and systemic sexism.

As an advocate for maternal health and family planning, my challenge is to recognize that my lens on women’s empowerment is often myopic, and that I must reach out to partners both within and beyond The United Methodist Church who can help me better understand the complexities of not only ensuring women’s survival, but also enhancing their ability to thrive. I have asked myself difficult questions like, what good does it do to build a birth facility if the women of the surrounding communities have no way to get there? Have we really achieved success if a woman has a healthy birth but only two months later dies of malaria? These questions are challenging, and will require a concerted response from the global community, including the church.

On April 3 at 3pm Eastern Time, I invite you to join the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project and United Methodist Women in a conversation that will explore two equally serious but oftentimes siloed issues: domestic violence and maternal mortality. Violence against women is a global pandemic that denies women's their bodily integrity. When a pregnant woman suffers partner violence, she may suffer injury, miscarriage, or even death. I hope you will journey with us as we explore ways for the church to respond to theses issues in a collective, unified way.

Please register for the webinar by April 2nd. This event is open to the public.

Katey Zeh is an advocate and organizer for reproductive justice. She directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the General Board of Church and Society, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She lives in Cary, NC with her soon-to-be-husband Matt and their dog Lucy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Relevance LEAD

by Anthony Fatta

Wondering what your friends in the Western Jurisdiction were up to last week? Check out Relevance LEAD, and see Anthony's explanation on why it is important!

The Relevance LEAD conference was not your typical best practices, build it and they will come, young adult outreach conference. It was a little more cerebral than that. We know dressing, teaching, and preaching in one particular way is not the answer to reaching more people. Instead of the typical coffeehouse preaching or film-based sermon series, we had workshops that really focused on our development as ministers like: how to be authentically you in ministry, how to affirm lay ministry as equal to ordained ministry, and to be creative even if it means losing our pensions...because, let’s be real, they will not be there anyways.
In terms of social justice, that is what young adults are hungry for. They want to plug into a tradition that has a strong social witness, but not one that has become a rotary club. Needless to say, this conference was a great one to attend. I think the Western Jurisdiction (at least those at this conference) recognizes that church as usual does not work anymore. We need to let the Spirit move us somewhere else. It’s scary, but it’s a lot better than bemoaning a slow, painful decline. The Gospel is a message for all people, but how it’s shared with people needs to be changed! I look forward to being a part of that change.


Anthony Fatta is the Youth Director at Los Gatos UMC in the Bay Area of California and is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Text: Joel 2:1-2, 12-13

On Ash Wednesday we gather to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. This is a season of repentance and reflection in preparation for the Easter event. I always thought of it as a particularly dirty Christian tradition. In the days of old Christians would come to the bishop on this day to serve public penance by receiving ashes from the previous year’s palms sprinkled over their clothing while reciting Psalms of repentance. On this day, I am reminded of the significance of seeking forgiveness and repentance before God.

The author of Genesis wrote: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”[1]

I am the pastor of a small rural congregation on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. One of my church members shared with me a story about growing up out here in Kekaha during the height of the sugar industry. She told me that trucks would drive down the dusty roads spraying mosquito and other pesticides to protect the crops. As the trucks sprayed the pesticide the neighborhood kids would run behind it rejoicing in the misty haze of dust and repellent.

Imagine the health risks of which we were unaware! Not to mention the injustice committed by sugar companies that profited from the exploitation of land and people in rural Kauai. It is the community that continues to pay for the clean-up of remaining chemicals and demolition of the defunct mill.

The text which I offer us for reflection is from the Book of Joel, about a prophet who called his people to lament and seek repentance before God. The people were faced with the threat of invasion from a foreign army, but still, Joel reminded them it was not too late to return to God.

The prophet used poetic imagery throughout the book that is associated with the changing of the rainy to dry seasons in ancient as well as modern Israel. Strong, dry winds called Hamsin (Aribic) or Sharav (Hebrew), much like the Santa Ana winds in California, blow a dreadful current of dust and sand from the Sahara desert. There is no way to escape the dry, intense heat swelling across the landscape.

The point is that we voluntarily or involuntarily rejoice in, live through, and suffer from the plume of pesticide and dust. It is a metaphor that speaks to the very human capacity for both good and evil. There are times when we rejoice in the harmfulness of our world because we know nothing else, but other times we know we are hurt by and/or contribute to the hurt of others.

On Ash Wednesday, it is the ash of the earth that reminds us of the significance of repentance and forgiveness.

Last night I watched President Obama deliver the State of the Union Address. At times I was caught up in the spirit of hope but found myself frustrated with an often repeated phrase: “We can fix this.” He introduced inspirational commentary and commissions on issues such as economic, immigration, and especially gun law reform. Indeed, we deserve a vote and political action on these issues. However, as the prophet suggested, we cannot fix anything in our nation(s) until we seek forgiveness as individual people, but also as a nation that continues to contribute to violence, death, and the ill-treatment of those whom we fail to regard as God’s beloved.

We know what it is like to be human, to make mistakes in our lifetime, to find ourselves in the mess of the earth. We come seeking repentance as individuals in need of forgiveness but also as one community seeking the merciful, kind, and compassionate God.

May you receive God’s blessing on this day as we impose upon ourselves the ash of the earth.

Joshua Clough is the pastor at West Kauai United Methodist Church on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii and a candidate for ordination in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. A native of the Seattle, Washington area he enjoys running, reading, writing, and walking on the beach at sunset with his dog “Cassie.”

[1] Genesis 3:19

Friday, February 1, 2013

Proverbs 21

by Adam Briddell

When I worked in the Senate, Chaplain Barry Black offered a Friday Bible study for staffers. He often turned to a paraphrase of Proverbs 21:31 when wrestling with the tension between trusting God and trusting in human works. He would encourage us to "trust God to win the war, but prepare your horse for battle."

I have been so inspired by how I have seen people of faith prepare to do battle with one of the most entrenched and powerful interest groups in the history of American politics – the National Rifle Association.

It will be a battle. But our perseverance is owed to those communities that have long resembled battlefields. Our perseverance is owed to the families who have been told that their loss is necessary, collateral damage outweighed by the perceived need to own handguns and assault weapons.

We have many allies in this fight. Movements and communities that have long been at the work of fighting for safer communities. Just this past Saturday I joined over a thousand people on the National Mall – all of us deeply moved by the witness of survivors and life long workers in the struggle to limit our capacity for violence. I was inspired! I trust that this war will be won - that God would have our communities liberated from these tools designed to end life. We will remember that we are a people called to abundant life - abundant life that leaves no room for the violence enabled by hand guns and assault weapons.

My friend Chett Pritchett, Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, shared recently that:
"The witness of those who gathered on the National Mall affirms that all humans are created in God's image. We live out this basic theological concept by calling for a ban on military-style assault weapons, a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines, mandatory background checks, and closing private purchasing loopholes. This is a witness from thousands of citizens that life in God’s beloved community is a gift to be safeguarded."

And we will march in the streets, we will preach in our pulpits, we will pray for and with our political leadership. You can take action today by signing the petition found here.

You can take action next week by participating in the Interfaith Call-in Day scheduled for February 4th. Details are available here.

And you can help us to keep building this movement, by encouraging your parishioners, neighbors, friends and family to not let the urgency of this work fade. We are opposed by principalities and powers who believe we will fail. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Adam Briddell is an associate pastor at Bethesda United Methodist Church, has graduate degrees from Wesley Theological Seminary and Georgetown University, and worked for Senator Michael B. Enzi on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Read more from Adam at

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Let’s Not Leave the Lives of Girls to Luck

by Katey Zeh

Exactly one year ago on an unusually warm winter evening, my fiancé Matt and I got engaged. Ever since our lives have been filled with exciting plans for our wedding and joy-filled hopes for the next stage of our journey together as husband and wife. Now as we enter the last stretch of finalizing (and financing) the details of our special day, I cannot help but be reminded of just how fortunate I am. 

And I don't mean that in the typical "I'm the luckiest girl in the world" kind of way, though I do feel incredibly lucky to have a wonderful partner. What I really mean to highlight is how uncommon my life's journey of self-determination has been. Growing up in the United States in a family that valued education, I never questioned the path before me—to go to school, to pursue meaningful work, to live where I chose, to determine if, when, and whom I wanted to marry.

My work as an advocate for reproductive justice, specifically for global maternal health and family planning, has opened my eyes to the lived realities of women living in the developing world, especially those who live in poverty. Too often a girl's life is pre-determined by her gender, geography, and economic status. In the country of Chad, for example, a young girl is more likely to die from maternal mortality than she is to receive a secondary education. In a large, poor family struggling for survival, the girl children will often suffer malnourishment, receive little if any education, and enter marriage before her eighteenth birthday. An adolescent woman is twice as likely to die from childbirth than her older counterparts.

 Whether we live on opposite sides of the globe or opposites sides of the street, these disparities in women's life experiences between those who have and those who have not should cause us moral outrage. How could we ask a woman to lose her life in order to give birth to a child? And yet, every two minutes somewhere in the world a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. It's time for the Church to stand up for the world's women.

 Since 2010, I have directed the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project of the General Board of Church and Society. This initiative is a response to the moral tragedy of maternal mortality and the unmet need of 222 million women worldwide who would like to plan and space their families, but do not have access to modern contraceptive information and services. Over the last three years we have educated thousands of United Methodists on the importance of investing in women's health. We have trained more than 75 faith leaders on advocacy for maternal health and family planning, and they are now partnering with us in building a nation-wide movement of advocates in their churches and communities. Together we are helping to create a healthier world for women, men, and their families.

Want to join the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet movement? Here’s what you can do right now.
  1. Watch this video.
  2. Visit our website and sign-up for more information.
  3. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
  4. Send a letter to your representative, urging US support for global health programs that support and protect women and their children.
  5. Consider becoming a Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Ambassador. Our next training will take place October 27-30 in Washington, D.C.
Katey Zeh is an advocate and organizer for reproductive justice. She directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the General Board of Church and Society, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She lives in Cary, NC with her soon-to-be-husband Matt and their dog Lucy.